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Great-Grandmother Aims for Peace Corps After College

May 30, 1996|JOHN COX

Alice Hurst knows she has come too far to indulge in the second-guessing that haunts younger graduates at today's commencement ceremonies at Cal State Long Beach.

On one level, experience precludes it. She is a great-grandmother and widow who, at 72, long has settled familiar questions about marriage and career.

Yet to those around her, Hurst seems confident of the path she now hopes to pursue by taking her bachelor's degree in human development and joining the Peace Corps. There she plans to embark upon what many of her friends deem an uncertain future in social activism.

"Everything I'm doing now, I can't turn back," Hurst said Wednesday, chatting outside the campus dorms where she spent two years trying to sleep beneath the din of late-night parties.

"All those people who say, 'You can't do that. You're too old for that.' You just let all that roll off your armor."

Her inspiration comes first thing every morning, she says, when meditating upon Tibetan philosophies that first interested her in 1977. Since then, she said, the sessions have guided her toward social work and, particularly, fighting illiteracy.

"I can't believe how much I've awakened to social problems," said Hurst, a San Pedro resident.

Indeed, witnesses to her vigor were surprised as well.

The director of the Long Beach Area Literacy Council, where Hurst has donated many hours teaching a Vietnamese immigrant to speak English, said her absence will be profoundly felt. And a professor who instructed her on writing several successful grant requests for the council said Hurst's enthusiastic class participation "took me on a different direction intellectually.

"Alice is interesting," said Daniel Barber, director of the school's graduate center for Public Policy and Administration. "It seems to me she has a list in her mind of people and things that need attention, and she backs it up."

To be sure, Hurst's journey from a poor family farm in Michigan to a college diploma had its travails.

World War II cut short her first attempt at a college education in Ohio, where she was studying to become a dietitian. She and her future husband joined the Navy, then raised three children who would tug her through the Girl Scouts, sports teams and PTAs.

When at last their demands on her subsided, her husband retired and went blind, leaving her the caretaker once more until his death in 1991. Soon after that, Hurst, who also managed a career as an accountant for Continental Airlines, enrolled at Los Angeles Harbor College. After that, she endured dorm life and kept a 3.6 grade-point average.

College life hasn't distanced her old friends, but she said her evolving social conscious does add something of a strain at times.

"I prefer social programs to bridge and malls," she added with a laugh.

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